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Action needs to heat up on cold calls

Nuisance caller

Today we’re urging Government, regulators and businesses to renew their efforts to call time on nuisance calls and texts as complaints about this everyday menace continue to rack up in the tens of thousands.

Last year I was asked by the Government to chair a taskforce that would find ways to help tackle the problem of nuisance calls. In December we outlined 15 recommendations to introduce tougher rules and more action from businesses, the regulators and the Government. But six months on, much more needs to be done.

Since the taskforce reported, there have been around 61,500 official complaints about nuisance calls and texts, according to figures from the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office. But just 2% of people who’ve had these calls report them to the regulator, meaning there are millions more.

The taskforce set out a clear action plan, so it’s disappointing that so many unwanted calls and texts are still being received. People are sick of being bombarded with calls that invade their privacy and waste their time.

Complaints about nuisance calls

We’ve heard stories like Peter’s:

‘My 13 -year-old son got one. When he said he was only 13 they replied “has your dad or mum had an accident?”‘

And Alison’s:

‘When my mother was dying slowly in a care home 40 miles away and I was home caring for my sick husband, I sometimes had a dozen calls a day, any of which might have been the final summons I was dreading.

‘I bought a machine that let me block certain numbers – but these clever crooks changed their numbers with each call.’

The action we want taken to crack down on nuisance calls

We’re calling on the new Government to make senior executives accountable by law for their company’s nuisance calls.

Our new research found that eight in 10 people support greater accountability over nuisance calls, including directors being personally fined if their company continues breaks the rules.

That’s why we want businesses to take action now and support our campaign by making a public commitment to tackle nuisance calls. Already major companies including BT and SSE have publicly pledged their support.

We also want businesses to be required to show their number when they call you.

And we want regulators to give people more power by putting them in control of how their personal data is used. This means making it easier for you to unsubscribe from lists when you’ve accidentally found that you’ve opted in to be contacted. They must also provide some standardised wording for those opt in questions to make it easier for you to understand what it is you’re agreeing to.

We’re making it easier for you to complain about nuisance calls

There are things we can do to make it easier for you, too. We’ve found that a quarter of people don’t know where to complain when they receive an unwanted call, so we’re launching a new online complaints tool.

You can now send your complaint directly to the correct regulator in one simple process.

Nearly 200,000 of you have backed our Calling Time campaign, but now we’re urging you to make sure you report all nuisance calls and texts. This gives regulators the vital evidence they need to take action against companies breaking the rules.

Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that all of us are no longer bombarded on a daily basis with unwanted calls. The Government knows what’s required to tackle nuisance calls, so we need to see more sustained action, with senior executives held to account, to help put an end to this everyday menace.


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Jim Brennan says:
3 July 2015

How on earcth has which involved itself with BT in this alleged campaign? BT claims it cannot stop nuisance calls originating from overseas – Which doesn’t even provide a route in its portal to report them and referrs vistims the the TPS, which is next to useless in the uk, and functions simply as an umbrella for the telephone marketing industry, and even then relies only on the voluntary co-operation of the industry. BT used to offer free caller display services to victims – now it would rather sell you an alleged blocker phone, which Which has never tested. You shouldn’t be backing this immensely rich and very badly managed company before you have even consumer tested the service you are helping to promote. Should you?

When are Which? going to answer the questions:

Why is it legal to sell our personal data?

Who are the people who find telemarketing useful?

Who are the reputable companies that act legally and responsibly?

Why should charities and telemarketing companies be allowed to continue to harass us?

As Peter Vicary Smith comes from a charities background and other board members have marketing backgrounds, is there a conflict of interest here?

Hi Alfa

Hope you are well. We don’t believe it’s legal for companies to sell on your data if the company doesn’t have your permission to. All companies, whether they’re a charity or a business, have to follow the rules on how they use your personal data, as well as how they contact you.

The problem we’ve found is that people often give their consent without realising, either because it’s tied into taking another action, or because the wording is just confusing – so people don’t understand whether they need to tick, untick or leave blank. This is why the task force has recommended that the regulator creates a standardised set of statements, so that people can understand what they are agreeing to. We also think that a person’s consent needs to be obtained separately from anything else i.e. you should be able to enter a competition without having to give your consent to be contacted about other things.

There are businesses and charities who act responsibly, those that have got consent from the individual to be contacted, whether it’s first person or third party. They will have screened those people against the TPS and they will ensure that if you say you no longer wish to be contacted that you are taken off their database.

We want more companies to make sure that they are following best practice and implementing the task force recommendations. This includes making sure they show a valid number so that you can know who is calling you and making sure that there is senior level accountability for how the company uses your data. It’s why we are working directly with businesses and charities to get them to sign up to our campaign and agree to do this.

Yet again the questions that I and others have asked remain unanswered.

No-one should ever have to worry whether they have given permission or not for their personal data to be sold, or for how long, or to who.

There is a case reported recently in Third Sector regarding a cancer charity employing a fund raising firm utilising a list sourced from an Indian company. The Indian company’s proof of agreement to telephone calls apparently relied on a non-existent person responding from that address and telephone number.

One might if cynical that seeling lists is not an honest business – and that nobody in the loop is interested in checking it in detail or as a practice.

Which? I think is at a cross-roads. Is it representing its subscribers or is it positioning itself as a quasi-governmental body filtering views and feeding the main stream media with filler stories.

Surveying its entire 800,000 plus membership on nuisance calls ban could be done when sending out this years ballot forms. I am sure with on-line voting available or postage paid enevelopes you will probably get a very much higher response than surveys on Conversations AND it will be from the subscribers who empower/pay for the charity.

Third Sector does open your eyes when it comes to charities.

I used to naively think charities were organisations run by volunteers to help those in need when in reality they are big businesses. I don’t think I even realised Which? was a charity for a long time.

Some time ago, I looked up the website on our local clothes recycling bank, watched the video of the journey of those clothes and was frankly appalled that three levels of people were making money from them before being sold to the less fortunate on African market stalls.

I think you are right at Which? being at a cross-roads. It should be representing its subscribers but evidence right here on this convo suggests otherwise. It would also be a good idea to survey the entire membership of Which? as you suggested. My earlier poll suggestion on consenting to selling personal data fell on deaf ears and that could also be asked.

Reading the report I realise I erred and an address is not mentioned.

Interestingly the FRSB does not appear to consider that falsification can take place. Perhaps my training makes me unduly suspicious.!


“We’re campaigning to call time on nuisance calls and texts.”
supported by 218,000 sign-ups.

If I call time I expect things to stop and I guess most people do. So the follow-on in the sign-up:

” We’re calling on the Government to make senior executives accountable by law for their company’s nuisance calls, and require businesses to show their number when they call. We also want the regulator to give people more power by putting them in control of how their personal data is used.”

Does that in any way suggest that Which? is going to hold meetings with interested parties or would people be under the impression that nuisance calls are going to be punished?

tom gray says:
28 July 2015

Has anyone else experienced live nuisance calls masquerading as auto calls? This seems to be a new phenomenon, always coming from a number 08446480173. In my case, it is a voice with a local accent and I discovered the true nature of the call accidentally when I answered back in aggressive terms and found that the caller broke off or quickly jumped to the end of the script. On one of the occasions I was phoned 5 mins later by someone (local voice also) who claimed that I had pressed a button on my phone which triggered a response with more information – (not the case). I can’t work out what the point of this tactic is. I had another call today, but couldn’t put the caller off this time, who continued doggedly to the end of the script. All these have been reported to ICO

Hi Tom

that’s an odd one – have others had the same experience? Great to hear that you’ve reported all these calls.

An update for you. A green energy company has been fined a record £200,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO said its investigation found that Home Energy & Lifestyle Management Ltd (Helms) made more than six million calls as part of an automated call marketing campaign offering ‘free’ solar panels.

Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:

‘A bumper £200,000 fine by the ICO should make nuisance callers sit up and take notice. We now also need to see senior executives held personally accountable if their organisation makes unlawful calls.’

More info here: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2015/09/record-fine-for-nuisance-calling-company-417493/

I heard the ICO rep on BBC Breakfast this morning say that of the 6,000,000 calls generated, 60,000 hit the spot – 1%, but presumably worth it.